Attorney General To Argue a Case Before High Court

Michael Mukasey wants a sentence restored against an al-Qaeda operative.
Michael Mukasey wants a sentence restored against an al-Qaeda operative. (Sean Gallup - Getty Images)
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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who spent most of his adult life as a federal prosecutor and a judge, will return to the courtroom later this month to argue a case before the Supreme Court, officials said yesterday.

Mukasey will urge the justices to reinstate a sentence overturned by an appeals court in the case of Ahmed Ressam, an al-Qaeda operative convicted of a plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport in 1999.

The last attorney general to handle a case before the high court was Janet Reno in 1996, court officials said. William P. Barr and Richard Thornburgh also argued cases while serving as attorneys general in the administration of George H.W. Bush.

Justice Department spokesman Peter A. Carr said there is a custom, not always followed, for attorneys general to argue at least one Supreme Court case during their term. He declined to comment on why Mukasey chose the Ressam case.

Mukasey, 66, is a retired federal judge who oversaw several high-profile terrorism-related trials while on the bench in New York City. He is scheduled to appear for Supreme Court arguments on March 25 and plans to conduct moot-court sessions to prepare, officials said.

Ressam was arrested near the U.S.-Canada border in December 1999 after customs agents found 124 pounds of explosives in the trunk of his car as he disembarked from a ferry in Port Angeles, Wash. He was convicted in 2001 of nine charges in connection with the plot, but after ceasing cooperation with the FBI was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2005.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit threw out the sentence in 2007 after finding that one of the charges was applied improperly. The federal government disagrees and wants the sentence reinstated.

-- Dan Eggen


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